In the News
Cornerstone Assistance Network Central Texas
When a person faces release from jail or prison, he or she questions many things. Where will they live? How will they make a living? Who will hold them accountable? Will their substance abuse problem return?
These are some of the issues Cornerstone Assistance Network Central Texas hopes to address and are queries Interim Executive Director Dr. Dane Fowlkes made during several months of interviews with inmates at McLennan County jail. He reports 95 percent of inmates interviewed had no answer for the first three questions and more than half of them said they probably would lapse into the substance abuse problem again. Fowlkes is a full-time development officer with East Texas Baptist University and serves in a part-time capacity with the Waco Regional Baptist Association.
“Reentry is a dangerous thing for these individuals, a scary thing,” Fowlkes said. “There are too many critical issues to ignore them. It’s the fastest growing, unreached population in the country. Our churches want to do something, but what do they do? How do they do it? Enter Cornerstone Assistance Network Central Texas.”
Over the past several years various groups have discussed what to do about prisoner reentry and reintegration in Central Texas. One particular “think tank” led to a Restorative Justice Symposium on the campus of Baylor University in May of 2011 for the purpose of creating awareness. In the process, the group discovered the model of intermediaries and decided to pursue implementing the model in McLennan County. Cornerstone Assistance Network Central Texas was formed to be the missing link between the many independent services available.
Fowlkes said, “Cornerstone is an intermediary in the beginning stages with a vision that includes both the restoration of ex-offenders referred from partner churches and capacity building of existing nonprofits that are providing services for ex-offenders. In time, we will identify where gaps exist in services or where services exist but the need far outstrips the ability of existing organizations to provide. Cornerstone will then create new programs and services to address those gaps.”
An example of filling in the gap comes from Cornerstone Assistance Network of Ft. Worth, Texas, considered by many to be one of the most effective intermediaries in the country. Several female ex-offenders identified experience and ability in cooking and were helped to begin a catering company that has now branched into a restaurant. The new business was profitable in its first year of operation. Instead of wondering who would ever hire them, they created a successful business that is a model for other ex-offenders to follow. Cornerstone Assistance Network Central Texas hopes to implement this entrepreneurial model with ex-offenders in McLennan County and surrounding areas.
Local churches refer ex-offenders to Cornerstone and then the process of case management begins. Several of the volunteers for case management come from Baylor University’s School of Social Work. Churches are Network Partners that refer and walk beside the ex-offenders, and Network Affiliates are non-profits and social service providers that provide the much needed services for ex-offenders.
Board member and Co-director of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies in Religion, Dr. Byron Johnson, believes Cornerstone will play an important role in Waco.
“Without it, most of the existing ministries in Waco working with ex-prisoners will never become as effective or successful as they could be. I have written at length about the need for intermediaries,” he said. “It’s critical because it has the potential to link resources to needs in a comprehensive or holistic and integrated fashion.”
A group of nearly 50 individuals came to a Waco meeting on April 13 that introduced the research, vision, implementation and opportunity of Cornerstone. Most in attendance were services organizations who are interested in becoming network affiliates, but some of the network partners came in support. The three presenters all influenced the vision during last year’s Restorative Justice Symposium.
Johnson researched the need for intermediaries and has summarized his findings in the book, More God Less Crime. He speaks nationally about these issues and is a member of the board of directors of Cornerstone. Fowlkes spoke specifically about Cornerstone Central Texas, the system and the outcome. His role in the organization centers on casting the vision and developing the system. Allan Barsema, founder of Community Collaboration and Integration near Chicago presented the software that will be
the key tool in the Cornerstone network. He also authored the software, has received awards for it, is a practitioner and can demonstrate the effectiveness of the program.
Barsema has used the system in the two nonprofits he started and has helped others in the US and Canada discover how it can be a valuable resource. He gave three primary components to the system’s success. It’s holistic in that it looks at 15 areas of an individual’s life. It’s collaborative in identifying which community resources are able to assist unmet needs. It’s also technologically based to help coordinate between the agencies and get everyone on the same plan.
He said, “I’m very excited about what’s going on in the community here. I think (they) have all the pieces for having a successful reentry program. (They’ve) got some very professional people that are involved, some very passionate people that are involved, Baylor University involved, got good research components around it…. The pieces are on the table and can be assembled in a very effective way.”
The vision for Cornerstone is fast becoming a reality.
Fowlkes said, “June 1 is our launch day, if you will, for providing client services. We already have churches signing on as network partners. We have nonprofits signing on as network affiliates. We are already getting referrals from network partners. But on June 1 at 9:00am, we will sit down with our volunteer intake specialists who will interview these clients and begin entering information about them and pointing them toward where they’re going to be receiving these various services. On that day we move from being an exciting dream to a significant reality.”
Article in The Baptist Standard